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With almost no expectation at all, the concert started. And this time, the Hong Kong Phil surprised me. I was amazed at myself that I had more praise for them than criticism.

With Rizzi on the baton and Mustonen on the piano, I was impressed that the orchestra was kept under control and it was obvious that the piano and the orchestra worked well together harmoniously towards only one goal - they all followed the conductor's baton well. Although Rizzi's movements were only minimal, he appeared to have done a much better job than Samuel Wong in keeping the orchestra in tempo with the appropriate dynamic changes whenever necessary. Although the sound in the woodwind was occasionally on the dry side, and it was rather unfortunate that the strings were out of tune on the high notes, the transitions and conversations between different parts were nonetheless smooth.

As for Mustonen, my first impression of him was that his exaggerated gestures were too distracting, and a little unnecessary. I was also slightly disappointed that he did not play the concerto from memory and his page turning movements were also a little irritating. However, as the concerto went on, I learnt to ignore his hand movements by closing my eyes and the rest of the performance was much more pleasant. Accurate and precise playing is more or less expected of any professional pianists nowadays, which Mostonen did a good job delivering that part of his "duty" to the audience. It was just a terrible shame that the acoustics was so poor that no matter how expensive the piano and experienced and talented the pianist, the sound of the piano was fragmented and broken.

To be fair to the pianist, Mostonen actually played the Mozart Concerto in a most extraordinary way. He was confident; he was eager; he was dedicated and performed with style. His interpretation of the piece was the perfect blend of a Mozartian sweetness and liveliness. And the cadenza, written by the pianist himself showed off his brilliant finger-works and embraced the timeless quality of a Mozart concerto as it shared qualities from Bach to Mozart to even Schubert. The cadenza was a short, but definitely remarkable one. All in all, Mostonen gave an enjoyable and certainly incredible performance - exactly just what one needs before the rich and overwhelming Mahler begins in the second half of the concert!

After the intermission, what struck me was how packed the stage was. It was so full that someone's bow tip would touch his neighbor's bow heel! In terms of looks, this was probably as impressive as Hong Kong Phil can ever be on stage! Rizzi started the Mahler 6 th with power and the sound was surprisingly full. Majority of the players in the orchestra appeared to be more eager and involved which was certainly inspiring.

What impressed me was when the music was building up to the climax, I saw the violinists were also very much drawn to the music. They looked engaged and that was definitely an incentive for the audience to be more involved with the development in the music. To say the least, it was a comfort to know that the musicians were not just playing notes on the sheets, making sounds, but rather, they actually believed in the music and were trying to recreate the Mahlerian overwhelmingly romantic yet tormenting experience for the audience.

Mahler really can offer you a full range of experience - from the Alma theme that is both poignant and emotionally charged to the march in the brass and percussion part - all is mixed and intertwined into each other. One can never be drown in one mood for too long and just as you are about to dwell in a motif and begin to enjoy it, a new idea emerges. A life-time of experiences and emotions packed in a mere eighty-minute symphony. No wonder people say Mahler symphonies are rich and often too overwhelming and one can only take so much of it at any given time. But at the same time, Mahler's works can be truly inspiring and can stir up a lot of emotions and personal feelings if you allow yourself to be drawn to the music.

Mahler certainly knows how to twist and bombard your emotions while he pampers and indulge you with the most moving and heartrending moments. He does so by the frequent use of muted brass and percussions to create an acute and sour feeling, complimented by smooth, luscious and romantic sound created by the strings and woodwinds. And occasionally, the composer likes to drench the audience with the most colourful timbre produced from rich harmony full of dissonance that reveals the conflicting moments in the composer's life.

It is amazing how much Mahler's music can do to you. Half way through the third movement, I was enlightened by the lush and rich sound in the strings. When I first listened to the 6 th (taken into account that I heard it in a car!), I really disliked this particular symphony. I thought it was random, angular, uncouth and I just could not understand it, let alone having even the slightest desire to appreciate it. My comments on the 6 th were considered offensive, ignorant and superficial. Even having listened to it several times after the first encounter with M6, my views of the symphony remained the same. But after two nights of life performance, miraculously enough, performances by the HK Phil, I was, for the first time in my life, overwhelmed by the music. For the first time, I was emotionally moved and touched, and before I knew it, I had tears surging out of my eyes. I couldn't believe myself. I was both amazed and dumbfounded.

Associating with music personally has never been a strength for me. Even having been a musician and an orchestral player for over 20 years, I have always preferred to perform rather than to be performed to, and have always been emotionally separated from the music. This is perhaps the result from my subconscious habit to study everything that I listen to and look for technical elements to analyze.

But tonight, my perspective in music appreciation changed. I became emotionally involved. At first, I felt vulnerable and insecure as never have I before felt this way for music. But as that naked feeling slowly opened up a whole new horizon for me in music appreciation, I grew to rather enjoy it. It felt good and refreshing to be able to filled with emotions and feelings stirred from the music. It's amazing what music, good conducting and most of all, what Mahler can do to you. Who would have ever thought, even for a second that Hong Kong Phil was able to do that to the audience? Bravo to Rizzi! Congratulations to the players! Once and for all, I was impressed and pleasantly surprised by the HK Phil!

Until now, I still think it's not wrong to consider Mahler's music as random. When comparing to Classical composers such as Mozart and Haydn, their music usually follows a certain structure under conventional 'rules' (they occasionally break these 'rules', but the overall idea of the piece would be considered orderly). As an audience, you would know what to expect from the prevailing music and you can anticipate what is happening next. However with Mahler, that is not possible, as it is perhaps too 'human-like'. Even when the music hints to you that something is about to change, you would have no idea what to expect. As always, everything is a surprise to you!

At first, this feeling of constant surprises disturbed me. I did not enjoy not knowing what to expect and what to predict from the prevailing musical development, and hence my initial reaction of regarding Mahler's music as random and unsystematic. But this so-called uneasiness no longer bothered me when I learnt to let go of my analytical routine, and allowed to be personally involved with the music. All my previous concerns about Mahler's music did not matter anymore because his music can do so much more than to explain conventional composition techniques. It was a whole new experience to me - a very pleasantly surprising and indeed valuable one. Rather than constantly thinking 'this new motif is not what I was expecting, or it doesn't really fit with the last idea', I now think 'I want more, I want more! What else is there for me?'

Now I finally understand what it really means when people say "I have all the time in the world for Mahler". Mahler's music is definitely overwhelming and the experience unquestionably beyond words, but it is the kind of experience that one just keeps wanting more and more, the kind that to some, cannot live without.

I can't believe from now on, I am never going to see music and Mahler the same anymore. Once I have opened the door to vulnerability, I can never be the same. I can never talk about Mahler as if I were removed from his music like I used to. What I have discovered is that I have fallen in love with Mahler, and I have fallen in love with M6 tonight!


by noelle ho